Category: Oil


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World Tribune

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Russia accuses U.S. of cover-up over ISIL-Turkey oil smuggling

Special to WorldTribune.com

The United States is involved in a “cover-up” over Turkey’s alleged smuggling of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) oil, Russia’s defense ministry said on Dec. 5.

“When U.S. officials say they don’t see how the terrorists’ oil is smuggled to Turkey… it smells badly of a desire to cover up these acts,” the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page.

An oil convoy was completely destroyed when it was hit by a Russian air strike in Syria. /Twitter

An oil convoy was destroyed when it was hit by a Russian air strike in Syria. /Twitter

ISIL’s sales of captured oil assets on the black market is credited with making it the best-funded terror organization in history.

“The declarations of the Pentagon and the State Department seem like a theater of the absurd,” the statement said, adding that Washington should “watch the videos taken by its (own) drones which have recently been three times as numerous over the Turkey-Syria border and above the oil zones.”

 

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Israel buys most oil smuggled from ISIS territory – report

Islamic State

Israel has become the main buyer for oil from ISIS controlled territory, reports “al-Araby al-Jadeed.”

Kurdish and Turkish smugglers are transporting oil from ISIS controlled territory in Syria and Iraq and selling it to Israel, according to several reports in the Arab and Russian media. An estimated 20,000-40,000 barrels of oil are produced daily in ISIS controlled territory generating $1-1.5 million daily profit for the terrorist organization.The oil is extracted from Dir A-Zur in Syria and two fields in Iraq and transported to the Kurdish city of Zakhu in a triangle of land near the borders of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Israeli and Turkish mediators come to the city and when prices are agreed, the oil is smuggled to the Turkish city of Silop marked as originating from Kurdish regions of Iraq and sold for $15-18 per barrel (WTI and Brent Crude currently sell for $41 and $45 per barrel) to the Israeli mediator, a man in his 50s with dual Greek-Israeli citizenship known as Dr. Farid. He transports the oil via several Turkish ports and then onto other ports, with Israel among the main destinations.

In August, the “Financial Times” reported that Israel obtained 75% of its oil supplies from Iraqi Kurdistan. More than a third of such exports go through the port of Ceyhan, which the FT describe as a “potential gateway for ISIS-smuggled crude.”

 

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‘No way West was unaware of ISIS-Turkey oil trade’

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan © Umit Bektas
 
What will be the reaction of Ankara’s Western allies following Moscow’s revelations that Turkey is involved in ISIS oil smuggling, RT asked experts.

READ MORE: Russia presents proof of Turkey’s role in ISIS oil trade

The evidence presented by the Russian Defense Ministry will be “partly ignored and distorted” by Western MSM, says Foreign Affairs Editor Srdja Trifkovic.

I think that Erdogan will scream ‘blue murder’ and claim that this is all a set-up and a reaction to what he calls ‘justified downing of the Russian plane’. The real issue is what the US will do about this. Because it is quite obvious the Turkish tail has been wagging the American dog for far too long,” he said.

My hunch is that the US will continue to be reluctant to really do something about it. They have had a chance to do so for 15 months prior to the beginning of the Russian air strikes on September, 25. The question of all questions is whether Erdogan will finally be pressed by his Western partners to shape up and to act like a civilized person, which unfortunately he is not,” Trifkovic told RT.

 

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Erdogan & his family involved in ISIS oil trade – Russian MoD

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Published on Dec 2, 2015

Turkish leadership, including Erdogan & his family are involved in ISIS oil trade, Russian MoD announced on Wednesday, showcasing satellites images and footage from oil facilities and Syrian-Turkish border.

RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air

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Russia presents proof of Turkey’s role in ISIS oil trade

© syria.mil.ru

The Russian Defense Ministry has released evidence which it says unmasks vast illegal oil trade by Islamic State and points to Turkey as the main destination for the smuggled petrol, implicating its leadership in aiding the terrorists.

READ MORE: Map, images from Russian military show main routes of ISIS oil smuggling to Turkey

The Russian Defense Ministry held a major briefing on new findings concerning IS funding in Moscow on Wednesday.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, Russia is aware of three main oil smuggling routes to Turkey.

“Today, we are presenting only some of the facts that confirm that a whole team of bandits and Turkish elites stealing oil from their neighbors is operating in the region,” Antonov said, adding that this oil “in large quantities” enters the territory of Turkey via “live oil pipelines,” consisting of thousands of oil trucks.

The routes of alleged oil smuggling from Syria and Iraq to Turkey © syria.mil.ru

Antonov added that Turkey is the main buyer of smuggled oil coming from Iraq and Syria.

According to our data, the top political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – is involved in this criminal business.”

READ MORE: Russia says Turkey’s Erdogan & family involved in illegal ISIS oil trade

However, since the start of Russia’s anti-terrorist operation in Syria on September 30, the income of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants from illegal oil smuggling has been significantly reduced, the ministry said.

The income of this terrorist organization was about $3 million per day. After two months of Russian airstrikes their income was about $1.5 million a day,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy said.

At the briefing the ministry presented photos of oil trucks, videos of airstrikes on IS oil storage facilities and maps detailing the movement of smuggled oil. More evidence is to be published on the ministry’s website in the coming says, Rudskoy said.

 

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‘Great partners’: Pentagon rejects Russian evidence of Turkey aiding ISIS

Col. Steve Warren © Khalid Mohammed
A Pentagon spokesman rejected Russia’s evidence of Turkey’s involvement in oil deals with Islamic State militants, calling Turkey a “great partner” just a day after his boss complained to Congress that Ankara was not fighting ISIS enough.

“Let me be very clear that we flatly reject any notion that the Turks are somehow working with ISIL,” said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). “That is preposterous and kind of ridiculous. We absolutely, flatly reject that notion.”

Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Steve Warren: We flatly reject the notion that is working with .

Warren was responding to questions about the evidence presented by the Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday, including satellite photos and maps pointing the finger at Turkey – and President Recep Erdogan personally – for aiding the militants in smuggling oil.

“The Turks have been great partner to us in the fight against ISIL. They are hosting our aircraft, they are conducting strikes, they are supporting the moderate Syrian opposition,” Warren told reporters during a weekly Pentagon briefing from Operation Inherent Resolve headquarters in Baghdad. “They’ve been good partners here. Any thought that the Turks, that the Turkish government is somehow working with ISIL is just preposterous and completely untrue.”

Just yesterday, however, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter was telling the House Armed Services Committee that most of Turkey’s military operations were directed against the Kurds, rather than the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

“Most of their air operations are not directed at ISIL,” Carter told lawmakers. “They are directed at the PKK, which we understand their concern about — it’s a terrorist organization within their borders — but we would like to see them do more against ISIL.”

 

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US-led coalition not striking ISIS oil trucks despite evidence – Russia’s General Staff

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in this U.S. Air Force © Senior Airman Matthew Bruch
Despite mounting evidence of ISIS oil smuggling, the US-led coalition in Syria and Iraq is not striking convoys of oil trucks heading to Turkey, Russia’s General Staff has said.

“It’s hard not to notice” the thousands of trucks used by terrorists for oil smuggling, Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy, deputy commander of the General Staff, said at a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Russia presents proof of Turkey’s role in ISIS oil trade

“However, we see no strikes on those convoys by the coalition – only a tripling in the number of strategic UAVs has been observed,” he said.

With the US and its allies unwilling to act, the Russian Defense Ministry has reported the locations where Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) oil tankers are concentrated, Rudskoy said.

Vehicles parked 8km west of Zakho, Iraq © syria.mil.ru

The deputy commander stressed that defeating IS would be impossible without curbing its main source of income – the illegal oil trade – and urged the coalition to strike IS oil infrastructure.

 

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 The New York Times

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An oil well in Texas owned by Apache Corporation, the object of a failed bid last week from Anadarko Petroleum. Many in the oil industry expect large companies to buy small operators. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

HOUSTON — Such is the state of the oil industry these days that there is sometimes nowhere to put the oil. Off the coast of Texas, a line of roughly 40 tankers has formed, waiting to unload their crude or, in some cases, for a willing buyer to come along. Similar scenes are playing out off the coasts of Singapore and China and in the Persian Gulf.

There is little sign that the logjam will ease, as the price of oil continued its yearlong plunge this week, declining by nearly $10 a barrel.

The renewed collapse in crude prices is helping to again drive down gasoline prices for American drivers, to a national average of $2.19 a gallon for regular gasoline on Friday, according to the AAA motor club. That is 9 cents below the price a month ago and 73 cents below the price a year ago.

The slide in oil companies’ fortunes has been significant because of expanded production in Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, as well as a slowdown in demand growth in China and the expectation by commodity traders that the Iran nuclear deal will introduce large quantities of oil to the glutted market.

 

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ZeroHedge

Something Very Strange Is Taking Place Off The Coast Of Galveston, TX

Having exposed the world yesterday to the 2-mile long line of tankers-full’o’crude heading from Iraq to the US, several weeks after reporting that China has run out of oil storage space we can now confirm that the global crude “in transit” glut is becoming gargantuan and is starting to have adverse consequences on the price of oil.

While the crude oil tanker backlog in Houston reaches an almost unprecedented 39 (with combined capacity of 28.4 million barrels), as The FT reports that from China to the Gulf of Mexico, the growing flotilla of stationary supertankers is evidence that the oil price crash may still have further to run, as more than 100m barrels of crude oil and heavy fuels are being held on ships at sea (as the year-long supply glut fills up available storage on land). The storage problems are so severe in fact, that traders asking ships to go slow, and that is where we see something very strange occurring off the coast near Galveston, TX.

FT reports that “the amount of oil at sea is at least double the levels of earlier this year and is equivalent to more than a day of global oil supply. The numbers of vessels has been compiled by the Financial Times from satellite tracking data and industry sources.”
The storage glut is unprecedented:
Off Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Asia’s main oil hub, around 35m barrels of crude and shipping fuel are being stored on 14 VLCCs.
“A lot of the storage off Singapore is fuel oil as the contango is stronger,” said Petromatrix analyst Olivier Jakob. Fuel oil is mainly used in shipping and power generation.
Off China, which is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest crude importer, five heavily laden VLCCs — each capable of carrying more than 2m barrels of oil — are parked near the ports of Qingdao, Dalian and Tianjin.
In Europe, a number of smaller tankers are facing short-term delays at Rotterdam and in the North Sea, where output is near a two-year high. In the Mediterranean a VLCC has been parked off Malta since September.

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© Stringer
The lion’s share of Islamic State illegal oil exports is conducted through Turkey and Kurdish areas. Although Washington could curb the illegal traffic, it has chosen to focus on other issues, a former CIA officer told the Sputnik news agency.

“It’s a question of priorities. They have never allocated enough resources to do so. Other goals and missions have been rated as having more urgent calls on intelligence and tactical resources,” John Kiriakou, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) counterterrorism officer and US Senate Foreign Relations Committee senior investigator, told Sputnik.

 

He said Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) oil revenue lifeline could be cut short, if Washington made an effort to do so.

 

“I do believe that,” Kiriakou stressed.

 

IS makes about $40 million a month on oil sales, raking in close to $500 million a year, a US Treasury Department spokesperson told the news agency earlier this week.
According to Kiriakou, someone on the Turkish side of the border has been making enough money out of it. “There are too many vested interests involved for it to stop. They greased the right people.”

ISIS nets $50m a month from smuggled oil, sells crude at super low price up to $10 p barrel http://on.rt.com/6uja 

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Trevor MacInnis petroli car:    Fuel barrels   Wikimedia.org

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Matt Clinch

It was a bruising day for Europe’s energy sector Thursday, with the full extent of the pain caused by low oil prices being laid bare in a series of earnings reports.

 

Anglo–Dutch multinational Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA-GB) reported a loss of $6.1 billion, compared with a gain of $5.3 billion for the same quarter a year ago, a decrease of 70 percent. This included a large $8.2 billion write-off due to a downward revision of its oil and gas price outlook and also a decision to halt projects in Alaska and Canada.

Oswald Clint, senior analyst at Bernstein, called these impairments a “necessary evil” which would allow a “new” Shell to emerge that could focus on natural gas and deep water drilling. James Sparrow, a credit specialist at BNP Paribas. called it a “kitchen sinking” exercise ahead of its merger with BG Group (@BGLFDC16J-GB).

The news didn’t stop there. French major Total (FP-FR) reported a 23 percent drop in third-quarter adjusted net income from the same quarter last year, although CEO Patrick Pouyanne spoke of “resilience” in the face of falling oil prices. Analysts were pleased with the results, too. Sparrow, called the numbers “encouraging” while Oswald noted that it had benefited from not having made any big investments into the U.S. shale sector.

 

 

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Who Needs The United States? Not Russia And China

 

Russia and China have just signed what is being called “the gas deal of the century”, and the two countries are discussing moving away from the U.S. dollar and using their own currencies to trade with one another.  This has huge implications for the future of the U.S. economy, but the mainstream media in the United States is being strangely quiet about all of this.  For example, I searched CNN’s website to see if I could find something about this gas deal between Russia and China and I did not find anything.  But I did find links to “top stories” entitled “Celebs who went faux red” and “Adorable kid tugs on Obama’s ear“.  Is it any wonder why the mainstream media is dying?  If a particular story does not fit their agenda, they will simply ignore it.  But the truth is that this new agreement between Russia and China is huge.  It could end up fundamentally changing the global financial system, and not in a way that would be beneficial for the United States.

Russia and China had been negotiating this natural gas deal for ten years, and now it is finally done.  Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas on the entire planet, and China is poised to become the world’s largest economy in just a few years.  This new $400 billion agreement means that these two superpowers could potentially enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship for the next 30 years

Russia reached a $400 billion deal to supply natural gas to China through a new pipeline over 30 years, a milestone in relations between the world’s largest energy producer and the biggest consumer.

President Vladimir Putin is turning to China to bolster Russia’s economy as relations sour with the U.S. and European Union because of the crisis in Ukraine. Today’s accord, signed after more than a decade of talks, will allow state-run gas producer OAO Gazprom (GAZP) to invest $55 billion developing giant gas fields in eastern Siberia and building the pipeline, Putin said.

It’s an “epochal event,” Putin said in Shanghai after the contract was signed. Both countries are satisfied with the price, he said.

Of course countries sell oil and natural gas to each other all the time.  But what makes this deal such a potential problem for the U.S. is the fact that Russia and China are working on cutting the U.S. dollar out of the entire equation.  Just check out the following excerpt from a recent article in a Russian news source

Russia and China are planning to increase the volume of direct payments in mutual trade in their national currencies, according to a joint statement on a new stage of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation signed during high-level talks in Shanghai on Tuesday.

“The sides intend to take new steps to increase the level and expansion of spheres of Russian-Chinese practical cooperation, in particular to establish close cooperation in the financial sphere, including an increase in direct payments in the Russian and Chinese national currencies in trade, investments and loan services,” the statement said.

In my recent article entitled “De-Dollarization: Russia Is On The Verge Of Dealing A Massive Blow To The Petrodollar“, I warned about what could happen if the petrodollar monopoly ends.  In the United States, our current standard of living is extremely dependent on the rest of the world continuing to use our currency to trade with one another.  If Russia starts selling natural gas to China without the U.S. dollar being involved, that would be a monumental blow to the petrodollar.  And if other nations started following the lead of Russia and China, that could result in an avalanche from which the petrodollar may never recover.

And it isn’t just the national governments of Russia and China that are discussing moving away from the U.S. dollar.  For example, the second largest bank in Russia just signed a deal with the Bank of China “to pay each other in domestic currencies”

 

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Senators Seek To Force Approval Of Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted: 05/01/2014 4:10 pm EDT Updated: 05/01/2014 4:59 pm EDT

 

HEIDI HEITKAMP

WASHINGTON –- Senate supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline say they think they have enough votes to pass a bill that would force the approval of the controversial project. A group of 56 senators — all 45 Republicans plus 11 Democrats –- introduced legislation on Thursday that would bypass the Obama administration and grant approval for the pipeline.

Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the bill on Thursday. Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) are cosponsoring it.

Because it crosses an international border, the decision on the pipeline falls under the authority of the State Department. The State Department announced another delay on a decision last month in response to a court decision that invalidated the pipeline’s proposed route through Nebraska, saying that it would wait to decide until there is more clarity on where the pipeline will ultimately run. The legislation would grant approval to “any subsequent revision to the pipeline route” in Nebraska, without requiring further environmental analysis.

“We continue to hear delay, delay, delay from the Administration about the Keystone XL pipeline. I’m beyond sick of it,” Heitkamp said in a statement Thursday. “We have strong bipartisan support in the Senate for this project –- and I’m proud to have recruited support from 10 other Democrats last month. Now, all of those Democrats also signed onto this bill that we crafted to fully approve the construction of the Keystone pipeline. If the Administration isn’t going to make a decision on this project after more than five years, then we’ll make it for them. End of story.”

 

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Nearly 60 people killed in Iraq bomb attacks

Civilians and security forces gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Iraq. (file photo)

Civilians and security forces gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Iraq. (file photo)
Mon Apr 28, 2014 9:25PM GMT

 

The deadliest incident on Monday occurred in the Kurdish populated town of Khanaqin where 30 people were killed and 50 others injured after a bombing targeted a political gathering.

People had gathered to watch television footage of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani casting his ballot in Germany.

“Suddenly we heard a big explosion. I wanted to turn my car around to go back home, but I couldn’t because people were running towards me. Most of their clothes were covered in blood,” a witness said.

According to reports, 27 members of the Iraqi security forces were also killed in a series of bomb attacks across the country on the same day.

 

 

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ENERGY TECH

Ahead of Iraq polls, oil still fuelling economic hopes


by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) April 28, 2014


Iraqi forces cast ballots ahead of wider poll
Baghdad (AFP) April 27, 2014 – Iraqi soldiers and policemen vote Monday ahead of the country’s first national election since US troops left with worsening sectarian ties and fears the country is slipping into all-out conflict.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, lambasted by critics for allegedly consolidating power and targeting minority groups, is bidding for a third term in Wednesday’s polls with Iraqis frustrated over basic services, rampant corruption and high unemployment.The month-long campaign has seen Baghdad and other cities plastered with posters and decked out in bunting, as candidates have taken to the streets, staged loud rallies and challenged each other in angry debates.Attacks on candidates, election workers and political rallies have cast a shadow over the election, and parts of the country that have been out of government control for months will not see any ballots cast.Many shops in central Baghdad have been boarded up and authorities have announced a week’s public holidays to try to bolster security for the election.

Iraqis living outside of the country began voting at overseas polling centres on Sunday.

Along with members of the security forces, hospital and prison staff will also cast their ballots on Monday ahead of wider polling on April 30.

Although voters have a long list of grievances, from poor electricity and sewerage services to pervasive graft and difficulties securing jobs, to say nothing of near-daily violence, the election has centred around Maliki and his efforts to retain power.

His opponents, who span the communal spectrum, accuse him of shoring up his power base, while minority Sunnis in particular say the Shiite premier discriminates against them.

Maliki contends that foreign interference is behind deteriorating security and complains that he has been saddled with a unity government of groups that snipe at him in public and block his legislative efforts.

But according to analysts and diplomats, with a fractious and divided opposition and no clear replacement, he remains the frontrunner in the first national election since 2010, and the first since US troops withdrew in December 2011.

No single party is likely to win an absolute majority, however, and as in previous elections, coalition talks are likely to take months.

 

With a budget languishing in parliament, crucial reforms on the back burner and a hamstrung private sector, prospects for Iraq’s economy after Wednesday’s election hinge heavily on the oil factor.

Iraq has some of the world’s largest deposits of oil and gas and aims to boost energy production dramatically, but a slow-moving bureaucracy and poor infrastructure are holding it back.

Complicating things further is Baghdad’s long-running dispute with the energy-rich autonomous northern Kurdish region, which has sought to sign deals with foreign firms and export without the express permission of the central government.

Any new government formed after Wednesday’s parliamentary election will have its hands full with these and other challenges.

Crude oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports and government revenues, and 70 percent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Despite calls for Iraq to do more to diversify its economy, oil still fuels the country’s attempts to rebuild after decades of conflict.

“What Iraq should be focusing on is actually developing something more diverse as an economy that’s less dependent on oil production,” said Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa Director for Eurasia Group consultancy.

“The challenge here is, given the security environment, it’s very difficult to achieve that.”

Only one percent of Iraq’s workforce is employed in the oil sector but the industry indirectly supports countless others, with revenues in particular helping to pay salaries in the public sector.

Meanwhile private firms, outside the oil sector, often complain they are hamstrung by an ageing banking system, with few loans available and outdated laws that make it hard to set up or maintain a business.

Rampant corruption and soaring costs due to electricity shortages and deteriorating security also complicate running a business in Iraq, which is mired in its worst period of bloodshed in years.

“Iraq’s economy suffers from structural weaknesses,” said a World Bank report.

It noted that although the oil sector was delivering strong growth, overall economic expansion “has not been broad-based enough to make major inroads on poverty and exclusion.”

 

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Violence Kills Nearly 50 in Iraq Ahead of Key Vote

 

Militants on Monday targeted polling stations across much of Iraq and a crowd of Kurds jubilantly dancing on the street as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary elections, officials said. The attacks, including a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, left at least 46 people dead.

The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and discourage the rest of the country’s 22 million registered voters from going to the polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces so they can protect polling stations and voters on election day.

More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in parliament, which is widely expected to be won by an alliance led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is likely to seek a third four-year term in office.

The day’s worst attack took place in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin, 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border. A suicide bomber walked toward a crowd of Kurds performing a traditional dance and blew himself up, killing at least 25 and injuring 35, many of them in critical condition.

The Kurds were celebrating the appearance on TV of Iraq’s ailing President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is being treated in Berlin since December 2012 following a stroke. The nearly 80-year-old Talabani was seen sitting in a wheelchair smiling and waving his index finger, stained purple, flanked by clapping relatives. Few details have been released about the severity of Talabani’s illness.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni Arab militants.

Khanaqin is in Diyala province, a region where Arabs and Kurds context territory and where Sunni militants target Shiites and Kurds.

Iraq is experiencing a surge in sectarian violence, with Sunni militants increasingly chiefly targeting security forces, army troops and members of the nation’s Shiite majority. The resurgence of the bloodletting, which nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007, underscores the precarious politics of a democratic, but splintered nation.

It also mirrors the three-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria, where the civil war pits forces loyal to President Bashar Assad whose powerbase stems from followers of a Shiite offshoot sect, against mostly Sunni Arab rebels whose ranks are dominated by Islamists and militants from al-Qaida-inspired or linked groups. Iraqi Shiite militiamen fight on the side of Assad’s forces.

Voters in Wednesday’s polls are widely expected to cast ballots along sectarian and ethnic lines.

But balloting will not take place in parts of the vast and mostly Sunni Anbar province west of Baghdad, where al-Qaida spin-off militants control parts of two cities, including the provincial capital, Ramadi.

Beside army troops and police, also voting on Monday were hospital patients, medical staff and detainees.

Abroad, Iraqi expatriates in more than 20 countries will also be able to cast ballots for a second day.

Authorities, meanwhile, announced the closure of Iraq’s air space, saying it will not reopen until after the polls close on Wednesday evening. Already, the government has decreed a weeklong national holiday to coincide with the elections, extending a previously announced three-day break. Such moves were common in past elections, chiefly to empty the streets and allow security forces faster access to attack sites.

 

 

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